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Lighting Retrofits: Save Money, Reduce Maintenance with Betsy Pooley

Betsy Pooley, director of building services with Aultman Hospital in Canton, Ohio, shares her lighting-retrofit success stories, including the use of LED technology

Betsy Pooley
Director of Building Services
Aultman Hospital
Canton, Ohio

Your organization is undertaking large-scale lighting retrofits. What type of lighting technologies have you specified for these retrofits? Why?

We’ve really looked throughout our facility to see how we can simplify our lighting concepts not only in our public areas, but also in patient rooms, parking lots, and beyond. In many of our public areas, the original lighting schemes consisted of can lights, wall sconces, and dome lights - all with different lamping configurations, many of which were still T12 lamps or incandescent bulbs.

Although this, from a design perspective, was a very common layout for public spaces, it proved to be inefficient from both a lighting-output standpoint, as well as an energy standpoint. Many areas were cave-like and dark, even with all of those fixtures. We were able to go through the lobbies, corridors, and waiting areas to remove three different types of fixtures with three different lamping configurations and replace them with one or two 2-foot-by-2-foot fixtures with better optics and a standard lamping configuration with improved lumen output.

Not only has the new lighting brightened up the areas. It also has given the space a fresh, new look while saving energy and ultimately dollars because we can extend the spacing and replace the old fixtures with far fewer fixtures.

We've taken the same approach with our patient rooms. Our typical patient room lighting layout consisted of two to five can lights - previously changed out from a 67-watt incandescent to a compact fluorescent in some instances - a two- or four-lamp T12 2-foot-by-2-foot fixture - or in some cases a four-lamp, T12 flip fixture above the patient bed - and a 100-watt incandescent dome light in the patient bathroom.

We often would get complaints about the lighting in the patient rooms not being bright enough or it being located in the wrong place for patient exams. The flip fixture on the wall behind the patient bed proved to be a maintenance nightmare, as intravenous poles crashed through the fixtures and rendered them useless.

We have removed all of the fixtures for a typical configuration in the room and replaced them with three new fixtures. The first is a three-lamp, 32-watt, T8, 2-foot-by-4-foot fixture that runs the length of the patient bed. By providing a single fixture with two levels of lighting, there is adequate lighting for patients and their families, as well as the doctor. At the room entry, a 600-lumen-output LED downlight serves as a nightlight. Additional room lighting also exists. A two-lamp, 17-watt, T8, 2-foot-by-2-foot fixture illuminates the bathroom.

With all of these changes, we eliminated nearly 1,000 fixtures. We anticipate an annual energy savings of almost $34,000.

What is the estimated payback on the light-emitting-diode (LED) bulbs? Was it difficult to cost-justify LEDs, due to their higher initial cost?

The payback for the entire lighting project, including the LED fixtures, was about 12 years when factoring in the labor, as well as the fixtures. As recent as five years ago, good LED technology from a cost perspective was out of reach for most consumers. In the last year or so, we've seen the cost of an excellent performing LED fixture come very close to a standard, commercial-grade downlight. When relamping costs are figured into the comparison with both lamp costs and man-hours required to physically change the lamps, the LED downlight was the clear choice.

We recently changed over our four cardiac operating rooms (OR) with 20 100-watt, dimmable incandescent downlights in each room to 20 dimmable, LED downlights. Prior to the changeover, my staff changed the bulbs in these rooms every 1-2 weeks, due to high-volume usage. More times than not, the volume of the OR cases made it next to impossible to get into the rooms to change out the lamps. Many times, we could only get in for minutes at a time to replace a few lamps before the room had to be cleaned for the next case.

My staff had to return to the rooms several times to get them all changed out, which was inefficient and not a customer-service pleaser for the doctors or OR staff. With the new LED downlights, the OR staff has been much happier with the light output and the reliability of the new fixtures, and my maintenance staff is available to work on other projects instead of replacing lamps every week. The manpower savings alone makes the payback a non-issue.

What role did outside sources of funding - utility rebates, tax incentives, grant money - play in the lighting retrofits?

With capital dollars becoming tighter and tighter each year, we've had to think outside of the box and find new ways to fund these much-needed projects. Since I’ve been here the last five years, we have worked to get rid of our T12 fixtures, but there are always more critical projects to complete.

This is where ownership comes into play. If there is a request for a temperature change, for example, the technicians are required to do it themselves. They want to show they can do it, providing them with a sort of self-satisfaction.

We've turned to stimulus grants and utility rebates to help us find some of the dollars we need to complete these projects. Although the paperwork associated with these grants can be daunting, they enable us to move forward with projects we may not have been able to without them. It's so important to get your vendors involved to help you with this process. In our case, our local distributor and the manufacturer representative helped us every step of the way to get all of the information we needed in a timely fashion. Many times, they have information and experience from other projects that can be invaluable.

Our utility company is offering a number of different rebate programs that allow us to recoup a good portion of the costs associated with the lighting retrofits. We even look to utilize the utility rebate to offset our grant match dollars for the stimulus project. The money is out there if you are willing to put forth the effort to do the work associated with the programs. It's important to know the programs that are available and how each one can be used to offset the costs associated with the work.

What are the biggest challenges/lessons learned related to the retrofits?

One of my biggest challenges was thinking outside of the box to find new ways to do things. In many cases, doing things the way we always have in the past just didn’t make sense. Although our light fixtures worked, it was challenging to find a new way to help others understand that we could remove fixtures, have better light output than what we have today, and save energy and maintenance costs along the way.

To many, the first cost seemed expensive for something that essentially was not broken, but the results achieved were astounding. Some of our worst lit corridors and lobbies received an instant facelift with a very small dollar commitment. Once they could physically see the difference in the lighting levels, the buy-in is easy.

What impact have the retrofits had on lighting maintenance requirements?

Maintenance-wise, we anticipate a number of savings. We have reduced our stock tremendously by standardizing three basic fixtures types and lamping configurations for the majority of the hospital. There is no more searching for which one of the hundreds of lamps and ballasts will be needed.

We can simplify our lamp cart tremendously and make lamp and ballast change-outs quick and easy for the staff. In addition, the new lamp and ballast configurations offer a much longer life expectancy than those of 20 years ago, when the original fixtures were installed. We hope with the new fixture installation, when it does come time to relamp, we can incorporate a group relamping program to further cut down on materials and labor.

There is virtually no maintenance on LED fixtures, which has enabled our staff to do other things instead of replacing lamps. Now is the time to think outside of the box and work to do things smarter any way we can while improving our efficiencies and our impact on the environment, as well.

Find more on this topic:

lighting, lighting retrofits, leds, cfls, incandescent bulbs, roi, utilities, utility rebates, tax incentives, maintenance and operations

posted:  6/9/2010